POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 19, 2011
David Fink won the 102nd Manoa Cup in a hail of eagles and birdies. His victory in the 103rd state amateur match play championship was mind over matter.
Fink, a 20-year-old ‘Iolani graduate, defeated John Oda, an imperturbable 15-year-old, 2 and 1 in Saturday's championship at Oahu Country Club. It ended when Oda finally ran out of short-game magic after clawing back from a five-hole deficit.
This year's Manoa Cup was dedicated to six-time champion Ken Miyaoka, who died earlier this year. The little guy with a huge heart was the ultimate grinder in Hawaii's toughest amateur golf test. Along with all the craziness that comes with match play, golfers are required to walk every match, up and down OCC's heartbreak hills.
Miyaoka would have loved all 35 holes of this gusty and gutsy final.
Oda, the youngest finalist in history, was 3 up after five holes and clearly not overwhelmed by the moment. Fink, his game lacking the spectacular flourish of a year ago, was simply tenacious. He rallied to square the match by the time they made the first turn, then won the 17th and 18th to take a 2-up advantage and good karma into the break.
Fink won the first two holes in the afternoon and pushed his advantage to 5 up when he hit his tee shot on the par-3 seventh (25th hole) to 2 feet.
Then Oda, with a swing built for accuracy and a touch far beyond his years, battled back. He one-putted six of the next eight greens, birdieing three and cutting his deficit to two.
For fun, and maybe to chase some of the nervousness he swore he never felt, he ran up the steepest part of No. 13.
"Really I wasn't (nervous)," said Oda, whose only regret was not being more aggressive around the greens. "My new thing is that golf is just a game. There's no reason to get nervous."
Fink, who will be a sophomore on the Oregon State team in the fall, was more than up to Oda's relentless challenge. The OCC member did not drain putts from all over his club's warp-speed greens the way he did last year, but he converted every putt he had to have all week.
He won four of his six matches by a tenuous 1-up score. The final must have felt like a blowout.
"I won with my mental game this year, just staying in it, one shot at a time," Fink said. "Last year was really a physical win. I was really hitting the ball well. This year I had to stay patient because I knew I wasn't hitting it as well. I just had to stick it out."
Meanwhile, in his first Manoa Cup, Oda was rolling through opponents with a relentlessness reminiscent of Miyaoka.
He nearly sank a crazy 50-foot birdie putt on the 34th hole that would have tied it. When it scraped the edge instead of falling, the match was dormied. Fink finally sealed it with a two-putt par on the 17th.
"He is just really good," Oda said of Fink.
Oda was, as one spectator described it, "freaking awesome" in his Manoa Cup debut. But Fink is, as Oda put it afterward. "The Man." His comfort level, on his course, in what is now his tournament, is remarkably high. Now his challenge is to translate that success at home to his collegiate career.
Fink has thought about that a lot. In the spring he practiced with the teammate playing best at that time, and kept a match-play score in his head. He set the OSU record for freshman scoring.
Now he is the first to win back-to-back cups since Hawaii Golf Hall of Famer Brandan Kop, who did it in 1997 and '98. Kop says it rarely happens because match play allows so much room for failure and freakish occurrences.
"You can be playing your best and if you are playing a guy at the wrong time it doesn't matter," Kop said. "Match play, anything can happen."
For two years now, Fink has found his way past everything.